Google: A Friday Get Together in the Shadow of Dorian

September 7, 2019

When I worked in Sillycon Valley, Friday was a big deal. I am not sure why. Once or twice a month, I would trek to some local joint and hang out with others who worked at our whiz bang technology and cyber data company. In general, the mood was upbeat. We were making money. We did not have vulture capitals roosting on our shiny vehicles. We were not responding to US government mandated document collection tasks.

If the information in Mr. Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post is correct, the Googlers must have concluded that Dorian was pummeling them with rain, high winds, and untethered plastic pool floats. The story is titled “Google Receives Demand for Documents from Justice Dept., Acknowledging Federal Antitrust Scrutiny.” (I was able to read it after wading through the begging-for-dollars pop ups. Really, Mr. Bezos?)

I noted this statement, which may or may not be affected by someone who is breathing the fumes from the Bezos bulldozer idling in front of the Washington Post’s headquarters.

the Justice Department has requested records related to its prior antitrust investigations, marking the tech giant’s first major acknowledgment that it’s a subject of a federal competition probe. The civil-investigative demand — acknowledged in a securities filing and a blog post — comes weeks after Justice Department officials said they would open a broad review of big tech, including search.

Records requests are interesting. On the surface, the request is simple: Gather up the information from “past investigations.” On the other hand, fast-moving, high-tech companies are not really into archiving. Sure, there are document management systems, files on Google Drive, data tucked into USB sticks, paper stored in file cabinets (although some Googlers may not be familiar with actual records management conventions), and maybe –– just maybe — data in a Google social media system.

The unknown, as I understand the document landscape, is to comply with this simple government request.

But — and there is often a but — associated with a simple government request. The content Google provides will be compared with information that the investigators, lawyers, and analysts have.

Anomalies are, in general, not desirable. For example, if the government document reviewers have a document NOT in the Google collection delivered in compliance with the request, an int4eresting question can be raised:

Why did you Google not provide the same information you delivered in the prior antitrust matters? (Translation: We have info in our files from our previous look at you and you a leaving stuff out.)

Now let’s assume that there is information in the government’s file (usually maintained in accordance with assorted guidelines and regulations about US government document retention). Here’s the question:

Why did you provide a document pertinent to a prior antitrust matter that you previously did NOT provide? (Translation: The trove of documents you Google have just delivered includes information we have not seen before. Why?)

You can generate quite a string of questions from this type of matching exercise. Neither question trigger unencumbered joy of pre-demand Friday staff get togethers. (Did you know that Google owns the Sports Page in Mountain View?)

Worth monitoring for two reasons:

  1. Is Google’s record keeping up to snuff?
  2. Are the data provided congruent with what the lawyers, analysts, and investigators have in their files both paper and digital?

A digital Dorian in Mountain View?

Stephen E Arnold, September 7, 2019

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